Based on his novel and produced, narrated, and written by Salman Rushdie, this fairly epic in length and scope tale follows the woes and fortunes of children born on the stroke of midnight as India gained her independence from the United Kingdom. This historical event occurred on the 15th August 1947, and on the preceding day the independent Muslim states of East and West Pakistan were created, with predominantly Hindu and Sikh India atwixt the two, all from territory previously controlled by the British. Thus the birth of these children occurs at a unique moment in history, and the story revolves around a special spiritual significance given to their inception.
Which is all fine and well. The film begins in a traditional way, telling the back story of the narrator’s family (he is himself one of these children) and it’s quite a nice, gentle introduction. Then, however, one of the secondary characters does something so horrendously evil, with so little reasoning behind it and, as we will come to learn, so hopelessly out of character, that a palpable break in the story is created. As we realise this evil deed was pure narrative artifice, the break becomes an ever increasing abyss between the audience and the whims of the storyteller, as he introduces ever increasing layers of whimsy and mysticism surrounding the birth of midnight’s children. Their arrival on the earthly plane at the time of India and Pakistan’s new dawn invites legitimate questions over what the author is trying to say, what the overall message may be, or whether or not there are simply several undercurrents all with some sort of legitimacy of their own. As the story continues to degenerate into an almost Bollywood version of ‘Heroes’, we realise that it’s just complete nonsense.
The tale would have been much more effective, not to mention meaningful, with the simple evisceration of all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo and a focus on the real gritty and fascinating history. The complete and dismal failure of the movie is by far and away the fault of Salman Rushdie himself, although the filmmaking does begin to falter and let itself down in the last third as well, which doesn’t help. A few points for simply illustrating some of the history, though complaints have been raised over the depiction of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and it will be interesting to see how it’s received in India upon its general release there later this year. A Canadian/British movie, filmed in Sri Lanka under a false title to avoid protests from extreme parties in both India and Pakistan, the novel it’s based on won several prestigious accolades, one can only assume most of its content was lost in translation.